By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
July 25, 2014
EUGENE, OREGON — Through three days of competition here at the IAAF World Junior Championships, Ethiopian men had gone without a medal of any kind, unable to reach the podium in the middle and long distance disciplines. That all changed in the span of thirteen minutes here on Friday evening, as Yomif Kejelcha and Yasin Haji swept 5000m gold and silver to conclude day four of competition. In a pure chess match of a race, the East African teammates were able to work together lap after lap, with Kejelcha ultimately prevailing in 13:25.19, a new personal best.
“I feel very happy for winning this 5000m,” said Kejelcha, speaking through a translator to Race Results Weekly. “We have prepared very well for this competition and our coaches have trained us very well.”
When Tuesday’s 10,000m gold medalist Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei of Uganda took the leading duties from the opening lap, a pack of eight men –seven from East Africa– immediately broke from the rest of the 18-man field.
As the laps went by, it became evident that team tactics were going to play a large factor in the race’s outcome. The Ugandans (Cheptegei and Phillip Kipyeko), Kenyans (Moses Letoyie and Fredrick Kipkosgei Kiptoo), and Ethiopians (Kejelcha and Haji) all stuck with their fellow countrymen, moving in unison. Two athletes that lacked dancing partners –Eritrea’s Tsegay Tuemay and Canada’s Justyn Knight– soon faded and fell off the pack.
“It has been part of our training to go out together. When my compatriot went first I had followed him, and then I started leading. This was our tactic all throughout,” admitted the tall Kejelcha, standing at 6 feet, 1.25 inches (186cm).
Splitting 3000 meters in 8:12.27 and 4000 meters in 10:54.13, the race was rapidly developing. Each country’s tandem had taken turns out front, yet the Ethiopian duo appeared the strongest of all, responding to every move effortlessly. With 800 meters remaining, it was Kejelcha who decided to surge.
Clocking a penultimate lap of 60.6, Haji did his best to hold on to Kejelcha, but it was to no avail. Kejelcha continued his surge through the finish, completing his final circuit in 59.6 seconds before claiming victory.
“We have been training to run in the 50’s the last laps. That was part of our training. The first laps were slow paces, but then we took the lead and it was very fast. That was our training and our tactic too,” said the resident of Ambo, a town west of Addis Ababa.
With the win, Kejelcha joins an impressive list of past champions hailing from Ethiopia. Among those to win World Junior Championships gold over 5000m are Haile Gebrselassie (1992) and Tariku Bekele (2006). Kejelcha’s time here was faster than both of those Olympic medalists respective winning times (13:36.06 and 13:31.34, respectively).
“I feel happy and honored to join their class and with God’s willing I’m planning to join them in the World Championships and Olympics too,” he said with a smile and laugh. Kejelcha now owns a pair of global gold medals, as he was IAAF World Youth Champion over 3000m last year.
Haji took silver in 13:26.21, also a personal best, while Kenya’s Letoyie claimed bronze in 13:28.11. Kenya has now won nine medals through four days of competition, ranking third among all countries. Every medal has been earned in the distance disciplines.
Hoping to complete the distance double and win a pair of world crowns, Uganda’s Cheptegei managed a fourth place finish in 13:32.84.
“I’m not disappointed here. Things did not work out right for me here today because I got a complication, a stitch in my stomach. But I thank God for giving me strength to complete the race,” he told Race Results Weekly.
Fifth went to Kenyan Kiptoo, the final man to finish under 13:40 in 13:35.39.
Emerging out of a large pack at the finish was American Colby Gilbert, taking ninth in 14:09.98. The University of Washington Husky said the experience racing against the world’s best juniors really opened his eyes.
“I was happy with it,” he said. “You get your ass handed to you by some Kenyans, and that’s good for you… It just shows you how much better they are and what you need to do to get better to get to that level and not be satisfied for being like junior national champ just for the US. You need to think bigger than that.”
Gilbert’s American teammate Brian Barraza was 13th in 14:13.33.
Through four days, organizers reported that 30,986 spectators have watched these championships at historic Hayward Field, including 8,937 people on Friday. Distance action continues Saturday with the women’s 3000m steeplechase final and men’s 800m semi-finals.
Following Saturday’s World Junior Championships program, TrackTown USA is hosting a high performance meeting that includes numerous professional athletes. Among those entered are 2012 World Junior gold medalist Ajee’ Wilson, recent University of Oregon graduate Laura Roesler, and Oregon Track Club Elite members Pat Casey, Elijah Greer, and Jordan McNamara.
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